The Commercial Appeal
Globetrotting ‘cameraman’ has seen it all
Cuban-born photojournalist Zumbado to speak at U of M
Freelance TV news photographer Tony Zumbado arrived in America as a child in 1960, when his parents f led Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
“I came to this great country because of revolution, and I’ve been covering revolutions all my life now,” said Zumbado, 57, a daredevil Zeligwith-a- camera Tony who’s been shot at Zumbado “countless times,” almost drowned, and been kicked and beaten during a decades-long career that has taken him from his home base in Miami to Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Libya, Chile, Haiti, the Michael Jackson trial and — perhaps most shocking of all, he says — New Orleans during Katrina.
“I have nightmares, still, about Katrina,” Zumbado said.
Zumbado, 57, speaks at 7 tonight in a free public talk at
the University Center Theatre at the University of Memphis. Presented by the school’s Department of Communication and Department of Journalism, the talk is titled: “From Hurricane Katrina to the War in Gaza: Photojournalism in Disaster and CrisisRidden Environments.”
Zumbado — who still calls himself a “cameraman,” even if some of his employers prefer the term “videographer” or “television photojournalist” — says he will discuss “how you cover a national or international disaster. How do you handle it? How do you work the area? How do you survive? How does it affect you?”
Most often hired by NBC, Zumbado has been at the center of many of the most newsworthy or memorable events of the past few decades.
He was in Haiti and Japan after those countries’ earthquakes; he was in the Middle East for the “Arab Spring” demonstrations and the death of Moammar Gadhafi; he was in Chile for the rescue of the 33 copper miners; he covered the first Gulf War and much of America’s subsequent military involvement in the region; he was in Cuba for Pope John Paul II’S visit; he was in Central America for the rebellions of the Reagan era; and he covered the trials of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony.
In an infamous incident that was much discussed in journalism circles and at “freedom of the press” conferences, Zumbado allegedly was assaulted by federal immigration agents during the controversial 2000 raid in Miami to retrieve 6-yearold Elian Gonzalez from Florida-based relatives and return the boy to his father in Cuba. Zumbado was knocked to the ground and held at gunpoint, he said, in a successful attempt to prevent the public from seeing footage of the raid.
Zumbado was invited to Memphis by University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts professor Allison Graham, who encountered the photographer, by coincidence, at an ASPCA evacuation center in Whitehaven, when he was in town shooting animal rescue efforts for a Mississippi River f lood story.
The Memphis high waters, of course, were nothing compared to the devastation that hit New Orleans in 2005.
Arriving before the hurricane in the custom 47foot motor coach that serves as his on-the -go base camp, Zumbado and his crew were the first to report on the desperate conditions facing the thousands of evacuees at the New Orleans convention center. He also discovered the gruesome scene at Memorial Medical Center, where 45 corpses were found.
“When you go to Haiti to cover an earthquake, you prepare yourself, you start picturing what it might be like, and you know you can’t expect much help from the authorities,” he said. “You expect the worst of the worst. But when you’re in America, you don’t expect that .”